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Carver County transportation tax generating double original estimate

Carver County’s transportation tax is generating twice as much as expected.

The controversial tax was narrowly approved by the Carver County Board of Commissioners in 2017, which imposed a half-percent sales tax on retail purchases; an increase in the wheelage tax from $10 to $20 per vehicle; and a $20 tax on vehicle purchases (which are exempt from the sales tax increase).

At the time, county officials estimated the increases would generate about $4.4 million. In the first year of the tax, between October 2017 (when the county started collecting) and October 2018, $8.8 million was collected, according to Carver County Engineer Lyndon Robjent.

The taxes were passed to cover a $128 million funding gap.

“We don’t know why it’s higher, but that’s good news. We’re still trying to determine the difference between the estimate and the actual,” Robjent said.

A good economy and growing county population may be factors in the disparities, he said, adding the taxes could generate more in the future.

“All indications are yes, obviously it depends on the market and the economy,” he said.

The sales and $20 on vehicle purchases taxes were estimated to generate $3.5 million per year. However the Minnesota Department of Revenue reported $7 million was generated between October 2017 to October 2018, according to Robjent.

Per month, those two taxes generates between $500,000 to $600,000.

The wheelage tax was originally estimated to raise about $880,000 per year, and in the first year raised $1.8 million, according to Robjent.

Funds

Proceeds from the taxes go to different projects.

Wheelage taxes can only go toward road preservation, resurfacing of roads and maintenance activities, such as paying back the bond that went toward building Highway 212 in Carver County.

Funds raised by the half-percent sales and $20 on vehicle purchases taxes go toward 26 county road projects.

The benefit of having more funds is that projects are able to move along at a greater speed, Robjent said. The county’s most high profile project, expanding Highway 212 from two lanes to four lanes from the city of Carver to Norwood Young America is almost fully funded.

The plan is to build the highway in two phases, the first from Carver to Cologne in 2022 and the second from Cologne to Norwood Young America.

There may be less of a delay in completing the second phase, after the first phase is finished, Robjent said. Together, the projects need $20 million more out of the total estimated $99 million price tag.

“That moves up (the timeline), that allows us to get those segments on 212 done sooner than we originally thought,” Robjent said.

The tax also aids the county in receiving state and federal grants for road projects.

“They can see there’s a real commitment, it goes a long way to winning more grants,” he said.

Most recently, Highway 212 received $7 million from the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Advisory Board for phase one of the project.

“The sales tax is a big reason for that,” Robjent said.

Other projects include Highway 41 through downtown Chaska and an interchange at Big Woods Boulevard (County Road 44) and Highway 212. Construction for the latter project is slated to begin this month and the county covered about $4.555 million of the total $20 million price tag.

So far, the county hasn’t had much negative feedback from the public since the taxes were passed, according to Robjent.

“I think most people know there’s a limitation on transportation funding,” he said. “They knew those roads would never get improved unless the county worked on a way.”

The taxes will end no later than Sept. 30, 2037 and Dec. 31, 2037, respectively.


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editor's pick top story
swnewsmedia.com gets a new website designed for ease of use and regional outlook

A new website debuted for Southwest News Media this week, and the staff behind the change say it will simplify how readers access local news.

The site follows months of rethinking, rough drafts and feedback as staff assessed how to make top news from across the region more navigable by smartphone and computer.

When the final draft went live Wednesday, the busy orange and bright blue design transition to a clean design, with gray and blue. Familiar news sections of government, arts, opinion and public safety were regrouped in a way that is easier to thumb through on smartphones. A revamped home page appeared, highlighting top regional news with tabs directing readers to their communities.

This final iteration followed much research and planning, said News Director Brent Schacherer.

“We listened to reader comments about our current website — what they like and don’t like, the issues they may have with usability,” Schacherer said. “All that information was used to create a new site that we believe is more user friendly, making it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for.”

Added and changed features include:

  • “Staff Picks,” a section for the newsroom’s best investigative and feature stories.
  • A “Contact Us” page, giving readers the opportunity to easily connect with an editor, ask a question or give a news tip.
  • A remodeled “Home” page, from which readers can gain a regional view of their news.
  • “Community” buttons on the home page, leading to each of the different papers’ pages.
  • Weekly online editions of the printed community newspapers.
  • More coverage in areas such as business news and video stories.

The Southwest News Media company includes eight community newspapers, which are the Chanhassen Villager, Chaska Herald, Eden Prairie News, Jordan Independent, Lakeshore Weekly News, Prior Lake American, Savage Pacer and Shakopee Valley News.

The website can be thought of as a ninth publication, staff said. There, readers will find the regional and hyper-local stories of their community that they would find in the newsprint copies. Each of the community papers will continue to have their own page, but the home page has been tidied so readers can catch news from across the region at a glance.

Data on how readers use the website guided the redesign, said Digital Marketing Specialist Aaron Hiltz.

Hiltz and Digital Content Coordinator Rachel Minske ran focus groups during the redesign with readers from across the region.

“Our team was in constant communication with our website designers over the course of several months,” Minske said. “We tweaked and perfected the website throughout the entire process.”

The final focus group used the terms “organized,” “easy to use,” and “professional” to describe the site, said Hiltz. Focus group members added that the hyper-local news on each of the community pages isn’t something they can find elsewhere.

The new website went live the morning of Wednesday, May 15.

"We hope readers like the new site as much as we do, but we also want them to know that the work of improving the user experience is ongoing," Schacherer said. "So, as they use the site, we would love to have them share their thoughts with us."